Abstracts – Labour History No. 109

Perverse Transformation: Railway Development and the Shaping of Queensland Society, 1880–1901
Bradley Bowden

The railways played a central role in the development of New World societies. In the United States, Shelton Stromquist found that in the American Mid-West and West, two sorts of communities were formed. The first were “merchant towns” under the domination of commercial interests and hostile to organised labour. The other were “railway towns.” These towns, within which railway workers were numerically significant, were supportive of labour militancy. In using census to explore the social impact of railway development on Queensland society between 1880 and 1901, however, this study finds that Queensland’s railways produced only “merchant towns.” Perversely, the railways also impeded local manufacturing as Queensland’s “railway towns” increasingly acted as conduits of imported goods to the colony’s rural population.

John Dwyer’s London Stories
Mark Hearn

This manuscript provides an analysis of working-class radical John Dwyer’s life and work in London, and the acquisition of beliefs and habits of behaviour in the East End of the imperial capital that shaped Dwyer’s subsequent Australian experience. The documents that Dwyer preserved of his London life after arriving in Sydney in 1888 reflected a strong impulse to maintain a good character dedicated to fulfilling his duties, and thereby accumulating status and material reward, despite the disadvantages raised against a working-class child of mixed Irish and English parentage born in Whitechapel. It was in reaction to these conditions, and a history of dispossession that marked his Irish forebears, that triggered Dwyer’s radicalism and established a tension between instincts of duty and rebellion.

Wobblies on the Wallaby
Rowan Day and Drew Cottle

This article draws attention to the dominant but neglected rural dimension of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Australia. We argue that wandering bush workers formed the bulk of the IWW in Australia, whereas most studies have emphasised the role of the IWW’s Sydney “Local.” In overturning the dominant interpretation of the composition and character of the IWW in Australia, this article also shines light on an under-examined demographic feature of early twentieth-century Australia. By clarifying that the majority of Wobblies worked in the bush, we also show how the swagman, the itinerant worker of rural life, so prominent in our understanding – and our imaginations – of late nineteenth-century Australia, remained a prominent feature of the New South Wales and Queensland rural workforces during the early decades of the twentieth century. To put it simply, Australia had not settled down and neither had its most revolutionary unionists.

“Lock up Holt, Throw away Ky”: The Visit to Australia of Prime Minister Ky, 1967
Phillip Deery

Nguyen Cao Ky’s trip to Australia in January 1967 was politically contentious and morally ambiguous. It threw a sharp spotlight on the vast deployment of state resources by a democratic government to protect a representative of a military junta. This article analyses, for the first time, Ky’s visit. It will examine the circumstances, the preparations, and the reception, both officially and on the streets. It will also examine the elaborate security arrangements and their impact on the character and efficacy of the anti-Ky protest movement.

Award Regulation and the New South Wales Retail Sector, 1971–88: Crisis and Experimentation amidst Changing Models of Development
Brett Heino

The 1970s and 1980s were crucial transitional decades regarding the award regulation of the New South Wales (NSW) retail sector. It was only in 1971–72, at the zenith of the post-World War II model of development known as antipodean Fordism, that the five-day work week was achieved for retail workers. The subsequent crisis of Australian capitalism undermined the basis of the “standard” employment relationship and encouraged the growth of precarious employment forms, such as casual and part-time work, which found particularly strong expression in the retail sector. In the midst of an institutionally entrenched retail union with strong links to the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) state government, broader corporatist experimentation, and division in the ranks of retail capital, a new juridic form, the Retail Trade Industrial Tribunal, was created to handle these tensions, an example of “institutional searching” for ways out of deepening crisis. Beset by jurisdictional squabbles with the NSW Industrial Commission and actively undermined by employers, the Tribunal proved an abortive experiment, creating a vacuum into which unadulterated neo-liberal prescriptions would step.

Taking Control: The Work-In Phenomenon in the Australian Metal Trades, 1969–78
Sam Oldham

During the union upsurge of the early 1970s, the “work-in” became a term to describe actions during which workers continued work in defiance of retrenchment. This article analyses the contours of the work-in phenomenon during this period as it occurred in the Australian metal trades. It is observed that the work-in was not only occasionally successful as a tactic for reversing retrenchments, but, in many cases, was expressive of an impulse among workers to challenge or subvert capitalist relations of production. The work-in phenomenon at times circulated with ideas of self-management and even worker ownership, in a tendency referred to by left-wing unionists as “workers’ control.” Shop committees were the basis of the work-in tactic, and a contest developed between the power of unionists and capitalist authority at the enterprise level, of which the work-in was indicative. The study draws on rank-and-file sources, including the Victorian metal worker journal, Link,and records of the Communist Party of Australia. These sources are used to give an overview of developments hitherto neglected in radical historiographies of the period. Work-ins and worker ownership have become resurgent features of industrial action since the global recession of 2008, giving presentist value to an analysis of the 1970s.

Robe River Revisited: Geohistory and Industrial Relations
Bradon Ellem

In August 1986, the new owners of the Robe River mining company locked out the workforce to begin one of the most high-profile industrial disputes of the 1980s. For all the immediate controversy the conflict generated, Robe River had faded from public attention by the middle of 1987, the unions apparently brought to heel and managerial control re-asserted. The dispute continued, however, for some years in Robe’s worksites and the Pilbara’s towns, until legislative change allowed management to complete its victory. This long dispute was the basis for the de-unionisation of the Pilbara’s iron ore industry and contributed to the weakening of unionism across the country. Only by reading the geography of the Pilbara as central to industrial relations and connected to global transformations – not as a remote or unique conflict – and by reading the Robe River dispute as a decade-long struggle can its nature and legacy be fully appreciated.

The G & K O’Connor Lockout (1999) and its Aftermath: A Case Study of a Union Avoidance Campaign in the Australian Meat Processing Industry
Marjorie Jerrard

The G & K O’Connor lockout of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU) members in 1999 was an example of a change in employer strategy with the objective of removing the union from its Pakenham abattoir. Chris Briggs’ research on the recurrence of the lockout in Australia sees it as an example of a “big bang lockout” which occurs against the background of legislative changes, a downturn in the meat processing industry, and other factors. This article examines the G & K O’Connor lockout in detail. It identifies legislative change in the form of the introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 in providing the company with the opportunity and legal framework to change its industrial relations strategy and weaken the AMIEU. This upsurge in employer militancy was also associated with use of the Federal Government’s apprentice and traineeship scheme, anti-union consultants, and tactics such as industrial spies and labour espionage. The lockout, which the stakeholders described as a “baseball bat lockout,” and subsequent actions by the employer introduced a “Pinkerton Incorporated” style of culture into Australian industrial relations in which the employer adopted an offensive position against the union using a range of union avoidance tactics.

“Good Riddance to the Stinkin’ Place”: Deindustrialisation and Memory at Associated Pulp and Paper Mills in Burnie, Tasmania
Ruth Barton

As areas have deindustrialised, the factories that once symbolised prosperity and constancy are abandoned. These buildings are imbued with the memories of the workers and local people and can become the site of contest over visions of the past, present and future. In Burnie, Tasmania, the Associated Pulp and Paper Mills factory closed in 2010 and was demolished in 2012. There was a sense of ambivalence around these buildings that had dominated Burnie physically and economically for over 75 years. Their centrality to the town’s prosperity and growth went largely uncelebrated and they were demolished to erase memories of the industrial past and frame the future as post-industrial.